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History of Marin Ballet

The history of Marin Ballet reflects the steady growth of Marin’s arts culture, the blossoming of regional dance schools across the United States, and ever-demanding educational and extracurricular expectations facing today’s youth. Marin Ballet remains vibrant and dynamic across decades of change due to its main assets: enthusiastic students of all ages, dance professionals dedicated to a standard of excellence, families and volunteers who value the arts, and ownership of a state-of-the-arts training and performance facility.

The Leona Norman School of Dance garnered community recognition in the 1950s and in 1963 was incorporated as the Marin Civic Ballet, a non-profit organization founded by Max and Phyllis Thelen. Mrs. Norman was a special guest at the Kirov Ballet’s annual graduation ceremonies, bringing back to Marin the highest standard of ballet training and performance of that era. Her dancers were recognized as an Honor Company in the fledgling Regional Dance America organization. In 1972, a visionary board of directors acquired the 100 Elm Street property for the school, and shortly thereafter the new Marin Center Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium offered a sophisticated theater for Marin Ballet’s annual Nutcracker performances.

In subsequent decades, the school’s six studios and Phyllis Thelen Studio/Theater have filled to capacity under the guidance of devoted artistic directors, teachers, and choreographers. Some students became professional dancers, such as Cynthia Harvey of American Ballet Theatre, Cynthia Lucas of the National Ballet of Canada, Jane Greene of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Joanna Berman and Alexandra McCullagh Newman of San Francisco Ballet, and John Lam of Boston Ballet. Whether a professional dancer or lifelong student, all have become highly accomplished dancers by high school graduation, with deeply-embedded life skills and appreciation of the arts.

Marin Ballet has pioneered educational outreach and community partnerships, serving specific areas such as Marin City and San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, and custom-tailored dance programs for elementary and middle schools. A generous portion of its students study on scholarship, and hundreds of free Nutcracker tickets are given to underserved families.

The 2022/23 school year marks the 60th Anniversary of Marin Ballet. A solid foundation, enduring mission, and stellar track record propel the school into a bright future, ever dedicated to the joy of dance.

Leona Norma, circa 1950